The widespread lack of asbestos awareness to the deadly health risks has left a lasting legacy of horrific asbestosis disease and mesothelioma, which has seen the number of asbestosis claim cases continue to rise to reach over 1,160 in 2010.
It was because asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were widely used as standard insulation and fire retardant in the building industry that many commercial properties and industrial premises constructed up until the 1980s included the deadly mineral.
Thus, it was not only workers employed in the many factories and shopfloors directly involved in manufacturing products using asbestos across the UK industrial heartlands who were regularly but unknowingly exposed to asbestos fibre dust.
One recent tragic example includes a female machinist who carried out repairs on asbestos-lined heating pipes when employed at a Lincolnshire factory between 1980 and 1984, and who died, aged only 47, more than 25 years later.
Once asbestos fibres are inhaled, they permanently attach themselves to the lung linings, eventually causing asbestosis disease or turning tissue cells cancerous.
Unfortunately, the unusually long gestation period means that the first signs of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms do not appear until 15 – 50 years later and at a late stage in the spread of the disease. Survival after diagnosis is often less than 6 months.
Another recent case illustrates how an ordinary staff worker can come unwittingly into contact with asbestos and only become aware of the fatal consequences decades later.
A former female accounts clerk whose routine duty was to deliver the wage packets to the employees on the factory floor at a Stockport factory between 1961 and 1967 was unaware that the premises was lagged with asbestos. It was only in 2010, over 40 years later that a diagnosis of mesothelioma was confirmed and death occurred within five months.
Even when the presence of asbestos was known, often there was little to no awareness of the health dangers. In many instances, employers would choose to ignore or conceal the growing evidence for the link to cancers and other asbestos–related disease. As a result, no information or protective equipment or clothing would be made available to the workforce.
A former railway engineer at the Crewe Works between 1956 and 1988 who died of asbestos-related lung disease in 2011, aged 70, left behind a statement testifying to blue asbestos being “constantly in the atmosphere, covering engine boilers, hands and sandwiches”.
Blue and brown asbestos was only banned by the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations in 1985, although white asbestos continued to be used in the building industry for at least another ten years until an outright ban was introduced in 1998.
It is currently estimated that a further 45,000 mesothelioma deaths can be expected by 2050.